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Solskjaer’s job hanging by a thread

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is on borrowed time in his tenure as Manchester United manager and the imminent 10-day international break would be the ideal time to get a new manager through the doors at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer is past his sell-by date as Man United manager and the board need to act swiftly to replace the 48-year-old Norwegian.

Cristiano Ronaldo has single-handedly kept Solskjaer in a job

Under Solskjaer United have picked up 4 points from their last 6 league instalments, with Aston Villa and Newcastle the only Premier League clubs to collect fewer points from the 18 on offer in that time span; both Villa and Newcastle have changed managers in recent weeks.

After 11 league matches this season, Man United lie 6th in the Premier League with 17 points from a possible 33. The Red Devils trail leaders Chelsea by 9 points and are 6 points shy of Man City, 5 off Liverpool, and 3 adrift of Arsenal.

Moreover, United have collected 7 points from a possible 12 in their UEFA Champions League group, and were also knocked out of the League Cup at the hands of West Ham in September.

United are winless in 4 home league games, have kept 2 clean sheets in 24 matches (all competitions), and the Red Devils are without a clean sheet in 14 home ties and counting.

In just 2 PL games this season have United kept their sheet clean – only Burnley, Leeds and Leicester (1 each) have kept fewer this term.

United have also made the most errors leading to shots, and have conceded a total 17 goals – on average conceding a goal every 58 minutes in the league.

Man United concede possession far too easily and struggle to win it back. United have made the least successful tackles (139) out of all 20 Premier League clubs this season, and complete fewer tackles per 90 than any other team in the division.

Additionally Man Utd have the weakest interception rate (aside from Man City who average 64 per cent possession in the league) with a lowly 81 interceptions after 11 league clashes.

Liverpool, on average, have kept 62 per cent ball possession in the league, a far more desirable figure than Man United's poor average of 53 per cent possession.

Halloween was nowhere near the scariest part of October for United who were battered on their own turf by arch rivals Liverpool, 0-5.

Liverpool utterly played United off the park and the visitors saw 63 per cent of the ball, two weeks before Man City did likewise and dominated proceedings at Old Trafford.

United earlier lost at Leicester City which saw the demise of Solskjaer’s unbeaten run away from home.

On their trek to the East Midlands last month, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba returned to the team after the pair started on the bench in the club's preceding Premier League instalment versus Everton.

Harry Maguire was rushed back into the XI and Solskjaer’s captain was ultimately culpable for 3 of the Foxes’ 4 goals at the King Power Stadium.

Marcus Rashford featured in United's matchday squad for the first time this season after an injury lay-off, and the English forward was named amongst the subs at Leicester.

Mason Greenwood put United in front with a sensational strike after 19 minutes, but then disaster struck for the visitors. Devoid in ball control, concentration and match fitness, Maguire needlessly conceded possession on the edge of United's penalty area to Kelechi Iheanacho who teed up Youri Tielemans to draw Leicester level before half-time, an astonishing finish nonetheless by the Belgian midfielder.

The hosts then went ahead in the second half through Caglar Soyuncu who was played onside by a helpless Maguire at a Leicester corner.

Rashford was impactful off the bench as he restored parity for United after meeting Victor Lindelof's ball over the top. Rashford's equaliser hit the back of the net at 81:47‘ albeit 54 seconds later the ball was in United's goal again as Jamie Vardy pounced at Leicester's rapid restart. 3-2.

The Foxes hit the final nail in United's coffin as Zambian striker Patson Daka was on site to bundle the ball over the line, after Maguire malfunctioned once more at an opposition set-piece, for Brendan Rodgers' side to cease United's 29-match unbeaten run on their travels.

F/T: Leicester City 4 - 2 Man Utd

During the summer United appointed Eric Ramsay as the club’s first set-piece specialist and individual development coach, and three months into the season Ramsay together with the rest of Solskjaer‘s coaching staff certainly have their work cut out for them.

Last season United conceded 14 league goals from set plays – only Leeds Utd conceded more from dead ball situations.

United next hosted Atalanta for Champions League action on matchday 3. Rashford made his first start of the season replacing Sancho who started at Leicester, and the midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred were recalled over Pogba and Matić.

United could have been ahead after barely 3 minutes when McTominay played in Rashford but the forward butchered a 1v1 and sent his shot wide of the goal. Regardless of whether the offside flag was raised, Rashford should be hitting the target.

In traditional United style, the hosts went behind after more brainless defending by Maguire who withdrew and made zero attempt to block Davide Zappacosta's low cross into the 6-yard box, and Mario Pasalic poked home from point-blank range.

Gian Piero Gasperini's side doubled their advantage at a corner (surprisingly) as defender Merih Demiral out-jumped both Maguire and Shaw, a powerful header bulging into De Gea's net which left United 2-down at the half interval.

United came to life in the second period and Rashford halved the deficit 7 minutes after the restart, courtesy of an incisive pass from Fernandes which enabled Rashford to tuck the ball into the side netting in front of the Stretford End.

United still trailed with 20 minutes to play, lo and behold Maguire made a positive contribution as the Englishman popped up in the attacking third and converted Fernandes' cross which had been left by both Ronaldo and Cavani.

In the closing stages of the tie, Ronaldo met Shaw's cross and headed into the bottom right corner of 'keeper Juan Musso's goal, leaving the Stretford End to erupt into jubilation as the Portuguese superstar saved Solskjaer's blushes yet again.

F/T: Man Utd 3 - 2 Atalanta

United were more than fortunate to escape with a win against Atalanta but it was inevitable that Solskjaer’s luck would soon run out.

Paul Scholes noted in studio that if United played the same way versus Liverpool, the contest would be decided by half-time and remarkably the management opted for an unchanged XI ahead of a mammoth battle with the arch rivals – leaving Cavani, Pogba, Sancho, and van de Beek on the bench.

Not for the 1st, 2nd or 3rd time this season United were devoid in defensive structure and cohesion as Jürgen Klopp’s men sliced through United’s backline barely in second gear, and essentially taught the hosts a fruitful lesson in football.

The goals flew in for the visitors. One, two, three, four, and with more than half the game still to play – just as Scholes had predicted.

Naby Keita broke the deadlock for Liverpool after only 5 minutes and Diogo Jota doubled their lead 8 minutes later.

Mohamed Salah ended with a hat-trick, the first visiting player at Old Trafford to take home the match ball since Ronaldo Nazario in 2003, playing for Real Madrid.

VAR added insult to injury for United, first disallowing Ronaldo’s consolation goal early in the 2nd half, shortly before Paul Pogba was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Keita.

Liverpool came away with a resounding triumph (and tremendous bragging rights) at Old Trafford. A mortifying display by United, more demoralising than the 1-6 defeat to Man City in 2011.

F/T: Man Utd 0 - 5 Liverpool

There was an ominous mood in and around the club in the aftermath to the Liverpool slaughtering, a feeling that Solskjaer‘s career as United manager was irretrievable.

Irrespective of his past critics, the humiliating home defeat to Liverpool in itself warranted the Norwegian to lose his job but conversely within 48 hours after Anthony Taylor’s final whistle sounded, it had widely circulated that Solskjaer would be retained as United manager and the 48-year-old was reportedly given three matches to revive his career.

Solskjaer essentially remained in the job for two main reasons: he retained the backing of Sir Alex Ferguson, and the lack of a succession plan beyond Solskjaer by the United board.

United visited Tottenham next as Raphaël Varane returned for the club’s trek to North London after missing United’s last three outings through a groin problem, and the French defender replaced his suspended compatriot Pogba whilst Rashford made way for Cavani as United switched to a 5-3-2 formation.

Solskjaer needed a seismic reaction and despite Spurs being incredibly poor, United asserted their dominance and took a deserved half-time lead through Ronaldo‘s astute volley.

Cavani doubled United’s advantage early in the 2nd half after combining with fellow strike partner Ronaldo, before substitute Rashford rubbed salt into the wounds of Nuno Espirito Santo and his struggling Spurs outfit, on the eve of Rashford’s 24th birthday.

F/T Tottenham 0 - 3 Man Utd

Upon a trip to Italy for their return Group F clash with Atalanta, Man Utd retained a 5-man defensive unit and were inches away from taking an early lead at the Gewiss Stadium when McTominay's deflected shot hit the frame of the goal.

It was the home team who went in front after 11 minutes when De Gea botched Josip Iličić's shot on the edge of the penalty area, a clumsy error from one of United’s few star players this season.

Ronaldo drew United level in 1st half stoppage time, an aesthetically pleasing goal constructed by Greenwood together with the Portuguese duo of Fernandes and Ronaldo.

Varane went off with an injured hamstring before half-time and was replaced by Greenwood as Solskjaer reverted to a back 4. Varane suffered an injury setback which has sidelined the centre-half for a month.

Atalanta retook the lead early in the second half when Duvan Zapata lost his marker Eric Bailly and was played onside by Maguire, leaving the Colombian striker to casually dink it past a recessive De Gea.

Rashford made way for Cavani with 20 minutes remaining, and the pair of Sancho and van de Beek were each given barely 5 minutes of game time.

Approaching full-time it felt like doom and gloom for Solskjaer before Ronaldo once more came clutch for United in added time, a stunning volleyed effort to salvage the Reds a point in Bergamo.

F/T: Atalanta 2 - 2 Man Utd

Back in the Premier League, United had a seismic task at hand when noisy neighbours Man City made the short trip to the M16 for the 186th Manchester derby.

After a decent cameo midweek, Bailly found his name on the scoresheet in the derby albeit the Ivorian defender had planted the ball in De Gea’s net after only 7 minutes.

City completed 26 passes in the build-up to their 2nd goal at the Stretford End, as Joao Cancelo picked out countryman Bernardo Silva who crept behind regular culprits Maguire and Shaw and nudged home in off De Gea at his near post, on the cusp of half-time.

Ederson was properly tested once in 90 minutes, a left-footed volley by Ronaldo in the 1st half which the Brazilian goalie swatted away and Greenwood fumbled the second ball.

City dictated the tempo and United barely got a sniff of the ball, other than De Gea who made a handful of crucial saves to avoid a similar score-line to Liverpool’s visit. City enjoyed more than two-thirds possession and amassed a total 16 shots and 832 passes – more than double the 400 passes completed by the home team.

F/T: Man Utd 0 - 2 Man City

For the first time match-goers were audibly up in arms with the performance by Solskjaer's troops, in spite of the team currently on a run of 1 win in 6 games. That record is worthy of a sacking and at any other club Solskjaer would be long gone.

When Frank Lampard was sacked in January his Chelsea side were on a run of 2 wins in 8 games, and the Blues had claimed just 29 points with 8 wins and 6 losses in 19 league encounters under Lampard.

Roman Abramovich – a relatively ambitious and devoted owner – swapped Lampard for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea went on to gather 38 points from their remaining 19 league ties, with 11 wins and 3 defeats, to land the Blues a top-4 finish before they overcame Man City in the Champions League Final.

After a 4-0 demolition by Everton over Easter weekend 2019, Solskjaer told journalists that he “will be successful [at Man Utd] and some players will not be part of that successful team”.

9 players from the starting XI that day are still at the club, with just the duo of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling shipped to Italy.

To an extent Solskjaer has succeeded in transforming the ailing and dysfunctional squad left behind following José Mourinho’s premature calling as manager, however adding silverware to the trophy cabinet is where Solskjaer has fallen short in almost 3 years at the helm.

When Mourinho cleared his desk in December 2018 the United dressing room was in disarray. Solskjaer did his part in restoring club values and amalgamating the squad however he lacks the managerial prowess of Klopp and the tactical nous of Guardiola, and has failed in adapting to modern Premier League football.

Solskjaer has assembled a talented group containing exceptional players, however a world-class team also requires a world-class manager at the helm.

Solskjaer has overstayed his welcome and the longer he remains as manager, the more his relationship with the club’s faithful may be tarnished.

Change is urgently needed.

The room is closing in on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his days as manager of Man United are numbered. Solskjaer was pictured this week leaving for Norway to spend time with his family, although it is believed that his job is safe for now.

With an international break on the horizon – the last of its kind until March next year – followed by more crucial games for the club, now would be the ideal time to appoint a new manager to reinvigorate an underperforming group of players.

Erik ten Hag should be a leading candidate to inherit the hot-seat at Old Trafford however – similarly to Solskjaer – the Ajax manager signed a contract extension earlier this year and the United hierarchy would undoubtedly fumble in approaching a manager already in a job.

Man Utd upcoming fixtures:

20 Nov - Watford (A)

23 Nov - Villarreal (A)

28 Nov - Chelsea (A)

2 Dec - Arsenal (H)

5 Dec - Crystal Palace (H)

8 Dec - Young Boys (H)

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